Badlands community opens doors, hearts to newcomers amid war with Russia

Annual end-of-summer gathering in Fairfield, ND on Aug. 20, to embrace Ukrainian immigrants amid Russian conflict in feast aimed at uniting first and fourth generation Ukrainians.

FAIRFIELD, ND — The Ukrainian Christian community extends an invitation to the public for a community gathering at St. Demetrius Ukrainian Catholic Church on Sunday, August 20th. This event marks the church's annual end-of-summer picnic, now expanded into a broader community affair to welcome new Ukrainian refugee immigrants who have endured the Russian invasion of their homeland. The liturgy will commence at 10 a.m. followed by food service at 11:30 a.m. This is a potluck, allowing all attendees to bring their favorite dish.

Reverend Martin Nagy, the parish priest of St. Demetrius, expresses his enthusiasm in establishing connections with the newcomers. The picnic has been a yearly tradition for the past five to six years, reviving a custom from their ancestors.
“The whole community wishes them well to help them get settled. We want them to know they have people here they can reach out to and make connections, but mostly just want to say welcome. We're here for you,” Nagy said.

He underscores their unwavering support for the victims of Putin's aggression, highlighting that their small church community raised over $100,000 to aid victims when the conflict emerged.

Deacon Leonard Kordonowy points out that due to the war many lost their homes and possessions. His lineage traces back to the first Ukrainian in his family born in the United States. His great-grandparents immigrated and established themselves in the Ukraina (Fairfield) region in the 1890s. His own education occurred in a one-room schoolhouse.

“They built the church and started that in 1906, St. Demetrius. It was the first Ukrainian church built in North Dakota… As a little boy I remember going to church with grandma and grandpa,” Kordonowy said. “When I was six years old… I didn’t know a word of English. The nuns taught me how to speak English.”

Hospitality flourishes within this cultural enclave of the Roughrider State. He elaborates on the traditional Ukrainian approach to welcoming neighbors, which was notably heartwarming.

“I remember how you used to greet people years and years ago. I was probably eight, nine years old. When he seen ya comin, and you can’t do this today, but he had a bottle of whiskey and a shot glass. That was welcoming,” he said. “After that the bottle was put away. But you know, we tried to show hospitality and welcome by doing all those extra things.”

At 86 years old, Kordonowy is a father to five, a grandfather to fifteen, and a great-grandfather to fifteen more. He is dedicated to ensuring that this new wave of Ukrainian immigrants experiences the same heartfelt reception his family received over a century ago.

“We’ve got to build strong friendships and welcome them. We don’t want them to feel desolate or out of place,” he said. “The sincerity and love of God, the love of people — this is what we really are. We try to invite and welcome everybody… We try to be friendly and truthful in whatever we do. Our life is what we are, no more and no less.”

Faith holds profound significance for Kordonowy, a deacon at St. Demetrius who is now predominantly retired from that role. Deacon Tony Holt , ordained a few months ago, has assumed his responsibilities.

Kordonowy recalls that life in the Badlands was challenging, noting that indoor plumbing only arrived in the 1960s. He emphasizes that a substantial part of our societal advancement is achievable due to fossil fuels and the diligent men who extract them. These resources have proven indispensable in his roles as a farmer and rancher.

“These people trying to fight our coal mines, energy, oil companies and all that… They don't realize that half of the stuff that they use every day is made out of petroleum, like your plastics and all of that stuff,” he said. “I get scared when these people start talking because, hey, we have cheap electricity, cheap utility bills, all of that because of what our people are doing with petroleum.”

Contributions from other organizations, such as the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and CATCH (Communities Acting Together for Hope and Change), enhance the collaborative efforts for this event.

By Jason R. O'Day



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